LOS ANGELES, Calif. – A judge in the United Arab Emirates sentenced U.S. citizen Naji Hamdan to 18 months after finding him guilty of unspecified terrorism-related charges that stem from an apparent U.S.- orchestrated arrest and a coerced confession obtained under torture.
Hamdan, who has been imprisoned in the U.A.E. for more than a year, will be released shortly based on time already served. In handing down the sentence Monday, the U.A.E. judge never specified the charges on which Hamdan was convicted.
“If the government of the U.A.E. thought that Mr. Hamdan was a threat to anyone’s security, he would not have been ordered released on time served,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, director of immigrant rights and national security at ACLU/SC.
Hamdan has become an unfortunate example of the Obama administration’s willingness to continue the Bush-era practice of using foreign governments -- often those with abysmal human rights records -- to detain and interrogate suspects based on little if any evidence while subverting the U.S. judicial process.
Last year U.A.E. state security forces, at the apparent behest of the U.S. government, detained Hamdan in a secret prison for three months, during which time officials interrogated and tortured him until he agreed to confess to whatever the officials wanted. Hamdan believes that at least one American official was present during a torture session, when the interrogator spoke to him in American English while he remained blindfolded.
It was not until the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit alleging that the U.S. government was responsible for Hamdan’s detention that he was transferred from the secret prison into a regular prison in the U.A.E. and charged with having committed unspecified terrorist offenses.
“The United States is not safer today because Naji Hamdan was imprisoned in the U.A.E.” said Jennie Pasquarella, an ACLU/SC staff attorney. “But if the Obama administration continues Bush-era policies that tolerate arbitrary detention and torture of suspects on behalf of the U.S., Mr. Hamdan’s story is destined to be repeated itself.”
Hamdan lived for two decades in the Los Angeles area, where he ran an auto-parts business and helped manage the Islamic Center of Hawthorne, a mosque and community center. His nightmare began in 2006 when he relocated his family and business to the U.A.E. As the Hamdans tried to board a flight at Los Angeles International Airport, FBI agents separated him from his wife and children, detained him and questioned him for hours. He was eventually released and allowed to travel, but when he returned to Los Angeles in early 2007 to check on his business, he was subject to further intensive FBI surveillance.
Then, in the summer of 2008, FBI agents traveled from Los Angeles to the U.A.E. to question Hamdan further. Shortly thereafter he was detained incommunicado by U.A.E. state security agents.
“I don’t understand why my father was taken away from me,” said Hamdan’s 17 year-old son Khaled Hamdan. “This is so painful. I grew up in the United States, but I feel like my government abandoned me, my family and my father.”
Since Hamdan’s arrest, both U.S. and U.A.E. officials have refused to deny that the U.S. is responsible for his detention. However, the charges against him, which included visiting Islamic websites, are for alleged “crimes” that were not committed in the U.A.E. There is no appeal to the court’s decision.
“The United States betrayed the values of justice and due process at the expense of a beloved leader, father and friend. Everything Naji’s children believed this country stood for was turned upside down and in the process they were separated from their father,” said Hossam Hemdan, the brother of Naji Hamdan who lives in Los Angeles. “We are grateful today, that Hamdan can return to his family.”